Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance available at www.faahq.org/news/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance

5 Things Property Managers Want Owners to Know

Magazine ,

By Terry Godbey

What happens when you gather a group of property managers in a room (okay, a virtual room) and ask them to speak candidly about what they most want the owners (or corporate offices) of their apartment communities to understand? They reveal a wealth of information, which hopefully can help strengthen partnerships between on-site teams and management and lead to greater success:

1. The multifamily business is all about people.

Melody Register, a property manager at Pebble Creek at Lake Mary, said it’s important for owners to remember that people are at the heart of everything they do.

“We can work together to build up our communities by humanizing the industry,” she said. “Owners should never forget who got them to the financial place where they now reside. It was Mrs. Smith in Apartment 100A. It was the property manager who passionately invested and empowered his or her team to success. It was the leasing consultant who showed just one more apartment to ensure that their prospect found the perfect home. It was the maintenance technician who worked on a broken AC in the middle of the night. By continuing to invest in people, we are guaranteed success.” 

The multifamily business contributes more than $3.4 trillion annually to the national economy, Register said, citing a 2019 Hoyt Advisory Services study commissioned by the National Apartment Association and the National Multifamily Housing Council. “Our industry would not produce these figures without people,” she said.

“I know that bottom line matters,” said Register, who has spent 20 years in the business working for various owners and investors. And although she’s happy in her current role, she said she often hears the same refrain from on-site teams about owners in general: “Everyone tells me, ‘I just wish they would remember that there are people involved here. This is all about the people.’”

Joelis Barandica, a community manager at The Courtney at Universal Boulevard in Orlando, agreed. “We should all be a little more compassionate and try to go above and beyond for our residents, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, because they are having as hard a time as we are, if not worse. Compassion goes a long way in our industry.”

A property manager at an east Orlando apartment community, who asked not to be identified, said it’s easy for owners to implement unpopular policies such as charging for a parking spot. “They are able to roll out company initiatives without having to face the music. I don’t think they realize how hard that is on the office team and how hated the office team can become. That brings down morale, and it’s a very stressful environment.”

2. We work very hard – especially with the added stress brought about by the pandemic – and feeling appreciated is important.

Lisa Oleaga, a property manager at Park Place at Maguire in Ocoee, said she thinks owners who have not had the opportunity to work on-site can have difficulties understanding what property managers and their teams go through.

“You really have to have a thick skin in this industry – and compassion,” she said. “You have to have empathy and understanding with your residents because this is very personal for them, as this is their home. We had to have extreme patience with our residents in the early days of the pandemic, as they became emotionally distressed because so much was unknown.” 

“The words ‘thank you’ and ‘I appreciate you’ are meaningful,” Oleaga said, adding that she is grateful that the community’s ownership team thanks her and the on-site team often. “Anyone can go and do their jobs, but when we feel the appreciation and gratitude from our leadership, it inspires us to go the extra mile.”

Andee Myatt, senior director of training and communications at Weller Management in Boca Raton, offered a different perspective. Although she’s at the corporate level, she plays “ambassador” and serves as a sounding board for property managers. “What I’ve been hearing, especially through the pandemic, is that the mental load of general life is really high for our on-site teams” as they try to juggle professional responsibilities and their home lives, which often include virtual schooling for their children. “At least at my company,” she said, “the majority of our on-site managers are women, and we need to really think creatively about how we can support them.

“On-site teams have not gotten a break because they are essential employees,” Myatt said. “Our property managers have not explored learning a foreign language or tried their hand at sourdough bread because they’ve been working harder than they’ve ever worked before.”

3. We need your support and cooperation – please answer your phones! 

Barandica said she thinks communication and support are sorely lacking. She moved to Central Florida five years ago after working for a big multifamily company in New York and said she has noticed a pattern, at least regionally, of a lack of communication and management support to the on-site teams.

“It’s great when we get a lunch here and there, and it’s great that we get gift cards, but that’s not the type of support we need,” she said. “We need them to pick up the phone when we have an angry resident who has already cursed us out and told us they are going to call corporate, and we’re trying to get ahead of it.”

Myatt wants to see that support for on-site teams extended in creative ways during the pandemic. “My company has focused on innovation and technology to make things as efficient as possible. Anything we can do to streamline efficiency has value because it gives people time to breathe. I think we need to be flexible with work schedules and with policies about bringing kids to work. If their after-school program is closed, what are they supposed to do with their children during that 2:30 to 6 o’clock window? Can our business centers be used for homework stations for employees’ kids? We need to make sure we are asking, ‘How are you doing? Is there anything you need?’ Supervisors say, ‘We’re in this together,’ but they aren’t if they don’t understand what’s going on in people’s worlds.”

4. Don’t raise the rent if you aren’t making capital improvements.

“I think we have to spend money to make money,” said Samantha Harvey, a property manager at Canopy Creek Apartments in Jacksonville. “We can’t keep raising the rent if we’re not changing or improving anything about the community.”

Her current owners understand this, but she said she experienced the opposite with a previous owner who refused to address residents’ concerns or make repairs, let alone capital improvements. “If you went to them, they would put you off for so long that you couldn’t get anything done. It was like a lying game. I am an honest person, and I don’t like leading residents on,” she said.

The property manager in east Orlando counts herself lucky that her community’s ownership invests in its apartment communities, but she, too, has seen the other side, and it’s not pretty. “I worked at a company that was famous for using bubble gum and a paper clip to fix something and not putting any money into the community until it got really bad.” In the long run, she said, capital improvements pay off because “if you’re raising the rent at renewal time, residents aren’t wondering why or where that money’s going.” 

She said the current owners strike the right balance. “They look for opportunities to make income, but they also cater to residents, and their reputation is their top priority.”

Register said communities need to add an incentive or improve an amenity to justify raising the rent. “Sometimes that takes a little money, but we’ve got to do something to show the residents that it’s worth a little extra.”

It’s important to be budget-conscious,” said an Orlando community manager who asked not to be identified, “but you get what you pay for. It might seem as if you are saving with a less expensive vendor, but ultimately if the quality of the work has to be managed so much it costs the manager time that could have been spent in other areas – or if it affects the community’s reputation,” it could wind up costing more.

Communities should also listen to their property managers about the importance and suitability of amenities, Barandica said. “My community had a tanning room. We’re in Florida! Who tans in a tanning room in Florida?” At her suggestion, she said the owners agreed to convert the space into a concierge center where residents can come to arrange for dog walking, dry cleaning, maid services, and other assistance.

5. Too much bureaucracy cuts into the customer service we can provide. 

A community director near downtown Orlando, who asked not to be identified, said many owners require too many reports. “A lot of them don’t know what it’s like to be at the actual community, and they lose touch with what happens in the day-to-day operations, so they require reports. Over the last five years, our industry has gone from being very customer-oriented and about managing a community to managing spreadsheets.”

On-site managers lose touch with the residents and their co-workers because of that workload, he said. “We’re more like asset managers than property managers. It’s hard to provide 110 percent customer service when you’re being pulled in so many directions.”

He said he has tried to explain this to owners. “I don’t want to say they don’t listen, but they want what they want, and they want it the way they want it.” The worst part, he said, is that “after we provide the spreadsheets, we have to jump on a call and tell them about the spreadsheets because they don’t even look at them.”

Barandica, who said she recently found herself filling several vacant roles, wished the corporate office would hire more quickly so that on-site managers don’t have to spread themselves too thin. “That burns people out,” she said. “It took months for us to get a property manager for a brand-new community.”

Myatt sums it up with an appeal for kindness and consideration. “Companies spend so much money on company culture. They say, ‘Whatever you need, just give me a call.’ This is really the time for them to prove that. They need to take all these internal marketing messages that they put out to their people, and they need to live and breathe by them. If you tell your people you’re a phone call away but don’t take the phone call, you’re going to undermine every quarter you have spent.”